Thomas William Pearson

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Wisconsin, Stout, U., of

Grant number

Gr. 9956

Approve Date

October 24, 2019

Project Title

Pearson, Thomas (Wisconsin, Stout, U., of) "Confronting the 'Forever Chemical': Community Responses to PFAS Contamination"

One of the greatest public health threats of our time is all around us. In fact, it’s already in us. We are exposed to numerous synthetic chemicals through daily interaction with mundane consumer products. One such class of chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, represent over 3,000 industrially-derived substances that repel water and oil. They are in food packaging, water-resistant clothing, stain resistant furniture, and nonstick cookware. The remarkable water- and oil-repellent properties, however, also resist natural processes of degradation, leading some to call PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ because they persist so long in the environment. Human exposure is ubiquitous and PFAS pollute the blood of virtually everyone. And now they are increasingly detected in water supplies, often at dangerous levels. With tens of millions of people exposed to PFAS in their drinking water alone, an official at the CDC has described PFAS as ‘one of the most seminal public health challenges of the coming decades.’ As Americans increasingly confront PFAS, this project develops a collaborative, multi-sited ethnographic approach to documenting contamination sites across Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Michigan, guided by an overarching question: What shapes the experience of PFAS contamination and how do people respond?